As an education writer for the nonprofit organization, Kars for Kids, and as someone who made Aliyah from Pittsburgh 34 years ago, I decided to write about the challenges of Aliyah from western countries with school age children. See the previous piece in this series, Aliyah and the Gifted Child.
Today I interview Dina Mann of Efrat.
V: Dina, I know you came here when you were in fifth grade, from Cleveland. Where did you go to school in Cleveland? Were you popular? What was hard to leave behind? How did you feel about making Aliyah?
Dina: In Cleveland I went to the Hebrew Academy through 4th grade. I was not popular. On the contrary – I was pretty marginalized, picked on.
It just happened to work out in my class that most the other girls came from Telshe Yeshiva homes, whereas I came from a Modern Orthodox/Bnei Akiva home. The other girls ridiculed me for pronouncing Hebrew with a Sephardi Taf instead of an Ashkenazi Saf, for wearing pants after school and for going to Bnei Akiva (instead of B’nos where the others went).
I was thrilled to make Aliyah! Throughout my whole childhood I had heard that we are making Aliyah soon. The only thing difficult to leave behind was my family – grandparents and cousins we were very close with who all lived within a block of our house.
V: How well did you speak Hebrew when you came to Israel? Where did you go to school? What was difficult for you? What helped make things easier?
Dina: I didn’t speak any Hebrew when we came to Israel. Well, maybe a few symbolic words like Shalom, Banana . . . At first, while living in Jerusalem, I went to Noam elementary school for a year, and then Horev for almost a year before moving to Efrat. I don’t remember any difficulties. I seemed to master the language very quickly.
I think what helped with that were two things:
A) I was happy and eager to learn the language and communicate with my new and supportive environment!
B) I was thrust into a Hebrew-speaking environment. Only one other girl in the grade spoke English. So I was forced to speak Hebrew right away. And I remember all the girls being very accepting and helpful, and never making fun of me at all for my poor language skills. The result – within 3 months I understood everything in class.
I think even my private 2-hours-a-week Hebrew tutoring classes in school were stopped then, because I was already getting more IN class than on my own out of class. I’m sure it took awhile before I was speaking fluently and without an accent, but I don’t remember the difficulty, so it seems it was very smooth and quick.
The other obvious area of difficulty would be social. Here too, my transition was amazingly smooth. My parents found and introduced me to neighborhood girls my age and had them take me along to Bnei Akiva almost from day one. I thought I was in heaven. I was hooked as a die-hard Bnei Akivanik from then on. Here I finally found my place socially, and the surrounding I found myself in was in line with my upbringing at home.
V: Tell us about your current life: when did you marry? What do the two of you do for a living? How many kids, ages?